Auschwitz was probably chosen to play a central role in the “final solution” because it was located at a railway junction with 44 parallel tracks—rail lines that were used to transport Jews from throughout Europe to their death. Heinrich Himmler, chief of the SS, the Nazi paramilitary corps, ordered the establishment of the first camp, the prison camp, on April 27, 1940, and the first transport of Polish political prisoners arrived on June 14. This small camp, Auschwitz I, was reserved throughout its history for political prisoners, mainly Poles and Germans.
Gradowski was one of the Jewish prisoners in Auschwitz’s Sonderkommando: those forced to escort new arrivals into the gas chambers, haul the newly dead bodies to the crematoriums, extract any gold teeth and then burn the corpses. Gradowski, a young married man whose entire family was murdered, reportedly maintained his religious faith, reciting the kaddish (mourner’s prayer) each evening for the victims of each transport—including Peter van Pels’ father, who was gassed a few weeks after his arrival in Auschwitz on September 6, 1944. Gradowski recorded his experiences in Yiddish in documents he buried, which were discovered after the war; he himself was killed on October 7, 1944, in a Sonderkommando revolt that lasted only one day. (The documents written by Gradowski and several other prisoners inspired the 2015 Hungarian film Son of Saul, which, unsurprisingly, was no blockbuster, despite an Academy Award and critical acclaim.)
Anne Frank was born in the German city of Frankfurt am Main in 1929. Anne’s sister Margot was three years her senior. Unemployment was high and poverty was severe in Germany, and it was the period in which Adolf Hitler and his party were gaining more and more supporters. Hitler hated the Jews and blamed them for the problems in the country. He took advantage of the rampant antisemitic sentiments in Germany. The hatred of Jews and the poor economic situation made Anne's parents, Otto and Edith Frank, decide to move to Amsterdam. There, Otto founded a company that traded in pectin, a gelling agent for making jam.
During the German invasion of the Soviet Union the Nazis began the first mass killings of Jews. Between June and September 1941, the Einsatzgruppen supported by local collaborators murdered hundreds of thousands of Jews across Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and the Soviet Union. Having observed the killings, Adolf Eichmann ordered a more efficient method of killing the Jews of Europe be developed.
On 15 September 1935, the Reichstag passed the Nuremberg Laws, prohibiting marriages between Jews and people of Germanic extraction, extramarital relations between Jews and Germans, and the employment of German women under the age of 45 as domestic servants in Jewish households. The Reich Citizenship Law defined as citizens those of "German or kindred blood". Thus Jews and other minorities were stripped of their citizenship. By the start of World War II in 1939, around 250,000 of Germany's 437,000 Jews had emigrated to the United States, Palestine, the United Kingdom, and other countries.
Völkisch nationalism denounced soulless materialism, individualism and secularised urban industrial society, while advocating a "superior" society based on ethnic German "folk" culture and German "blood". It denounced foreigners and foreign ideas and declared that Jews, Freemasons and others were "traitors to the nation" and unworthy of inclusion. Völkisch nationalism saw the world in terms of natural law and romanticism and it viewed societies as organic, extolling the virtues of rural life, condemning the neglect of tradition and the decay of morals, denounced the destruction of the natural environment and condemned "cosmopolitan" cultures such as Jews and Romani.
Germany's war in the East was based on Hitler's long-standing view that Jews were the great enemy of the German people and that Lebensraum was needed for Germany's expansion. Hitler focused his attention on Eastern Europe, aiming to conquer Poland and the Soviet Union. After the occupation of Poland in 1939, all Jews living in the General Government were confined to ghettos, and those who were physically fit were required to perform compulsory labour. In 1941 Hitler decided to destroy the Polish nation completely; within 15 to 20 years the General Government was to be cleared of ethnic Poles and resettled by German colonists. About 3.8 to 4 million Poles would remain as slaves, part of a slave labour force of 14 million the Nazis intended to create using citizens of conquered nations.
Cornelis Suijk—a former director of the Anne Frank Foundation and president of the U.S. Center for Holocaust Education Foundation—announced in 1999 that he was in the possession of five pages that had been removed by Otto Frank from the diary prior to publication; Suijk claimed that Otto Frank gave these pages to him shortly before his death in 1980. The missing diary entries contain critical remarks by Anne Frank about her parents' strained marriage and discuss Frank's lack of affection for her mother. Some controversy ensued when Suijk claimed publishing rights over the five pages; he intended to sell them to raise money for his foundation. The Netherlands Institute for War Documentation, the formal owner of the manuscript, demanded the pages be handed over. In 2000 the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science agreed to donate US$300,000 to Suijk's foundation, and the pages were returned in 2001. Since then, they have been included in new editions of the diary.
After about an hour, I thanked him and stood up to leave. He handed me a white envelope. Inside was a slim memoir he published nearly 30 years ago. “My memory isn’t so good any more, you understand,” he said, shaking my hand and smiling. “But it’s all in there.” Later, I flipped to a page near the end. In October 1944, Stos was sent from Auschwitz to a series of camps deep in Germany. On May 8, 1945—the day the war in Europe ended—he was liberated by Russian soldiers. On the book’s second to last page is an undated black-and-white photo. It shows Stos with his children and grandchildren standing under the Arbeit Macht Frei sign.
Many of the prisoners died in the concentration camps due to deliberate maltreatment, disease, starvation, and overwork, or they were executed as unfit for labor. Prisoners were transported in inhumane conditions by rail freight cars, in which many died before reaching their final destination. The prisoners were confined in the boxcars for days or even weeks, with little or no food or water. Many died of dehydration in the intense heat of summer or froze to death in winter. Concentration camps also existed in Germany itself, and while they were not specifically designed for systematic extermination, many of their inmates perished because of harsh conditions or they were executed.